After leading a protest on the House floor last week, two Democratic lawmakers were expelled from their seats in a historic day in the Tennessee legislature.
Nashville Democrat Justin Jones was expelled around 3:30 p.m. Gloria Johnson maintained her seat in a 65-30 vote. Rep. Justin Pearson was expelled 69-26 at the end of the nine-hour session.
Jones, D-Nashville, and Johnson, D-Knoxville, were stripped of House committees Monday. Pearson, D-Memphis, was just seated and had no committee assignments. Additionally, the trio had their ID badges to get into the legislature turned off.
All three Democratic legislators who faced the expulsion said it was "racially motivated," that Pearson and Jones were expelled as young Black men and that Johnson was not as a White woman. After the votes, protesters held a "die-in" at the legislature, lying on the floor for 14 minutes to represent the moments of a mass school shooting in Nashville.
No damage was done to the Tennessee Capitol nor were there any arrests made on the day that Jones, Pearson and Johnson led the crowd from the House floor in the middle of the session with chants. Jones had a bullhorn. On that day, hundreds arrived at the Capitol to try to talk to lawmakers about gun legislation in light of The Covenant School shooting. In the mass shooting, six people — including three 9-year-olds — died at the hand of a 28-year-old.
On the day in question, those Democrats stopped after they were admonished by members of their own party, and later by the speaker of the House, after a 30-minute recess. Jones and Pearson were not formally reprimanded on the floor Thursday. Johnson stood with the two. Republicans wanted to show a seven-minute video of what they claimed happened a week ago on Thursday.
"This is more or less a trial," Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville, said. "This is unfair to the defense. From my understanding, the three individuals have not been allowed the video by the leadership. How is that fair when you won't even let them have the video? How is that fair? Not just the folks in the room is watching. The entire nation is watching us today. If you want to show the entire nation how things work here, just go right ahead or we can pretend to be fair one time."
Rep. Johnny Garrett said the video would depict the events of that day. He said it wasn't anything nefarious or edited that day. The House cameras turned to the vote board, meaning the public didn't see it firsthand unless they were there in person.
The House voted along party lines to show the video.
Jones and Pearson held their hands in a fist while the video played. Protesters in the gallery mimicked the same.
"We are creating a circus," Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, said. "This is embarrassing. The world is watching us. They know what happened was unfair. They know this didn't happen when Jeremy Durham was expelled."
Jones said he wasn't standing for himself but his constituents.
"I was standing for those young people — many of whom who can't vote yet, but they are terrified about the trend of mass shootings," Jones said. "That is why I walked up to the well. We brought a megaphone because you cut their representatives off from the microphone. There is a time when people get tired of being sick and tired. My colleagues — what we did was act in our responsibility as legislators."
Jones said he was shocked that House Speaker Cameron Sexton thought what happened was an insurrection. No one was arrested, hurt or accused of destruction.
"We broke the glass of your false power for the world to see," Jones said. "This is a place to wrestle for democracy."
John Mark Windle, a former legislator, defended Johnson on the House floor.
"Please come up and face the people and tell why you are perpetrating fraud against this woman in Tennessee," Windle said. "Show me where she pounded the podium, another outright lie. Someone contradict me in this body. Someone come up and set me straight. It's an absolute falsehood. Democracy is too precious for a super-majority to abuse it."
Rep. Gino Bulso, R-Brentwood, claimed Johnson yelled and chanted.
"I went to the well. I didn't speak. As long as this microphone was on, I stood with them. As long as this microphone was on, they spoke and didn't yell. When the speaker called a recess, I think that's when the megaphone came out. I absolutely never yelled. This is about me as I understand it. I didn't speak in a voice than any other member of this floor. Make of it what you will."
Johnson said what was in the document was false.
"I have to raise the voices of people in my district," Johnson said. "My folks sent me here because I am a fighter. My friends in school call me Little Miss Law and Order. Sometimes you have to get in 'good trouble.' I felt that this issue was in my heart. It was compelling me to come forward."
Pearson hasn't been a lawmaker long.
"I want to be clear. We aren't relinquishing it. You are disenfranchising people in our state. We aren't giving anything away," Pearson said.
Pearson stood next to Jones during the disruption but said he didn't know he was allowed to stand near the clerk's desk unless called upon.
"Resurrection is always guaranteed after persecution," Pearson said. "This House hasn't been a place of debate."
Pearson's proceedings lasted for two hours.
This article was written by Emily West for Scripps News Nashville.
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